I am Des Coulam, I’m a sound recordist and I’ve lived in Paris since 1999.
My work involves capturing and archiving the everyday sounds of Paris in, as far as I know, a more comprehensive way than it’s been done before.
I describe myself as both a professional listener and a flaneur, endlessly walking the streets of Paris, observing through active listening and, in the words of Robert Doisneau, one of the great twentieth-century Parisian street photographers, capturing “that gratuitous, never-ending show for which no ticket is needed.”
My work in Paris is influenced to a large degree by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century street photographers including, but not confined to, the work of Eugène Atget, Charles Marville, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Brassaï. Charles Marville and Eugène Atget for example created a tremendous photographic record of the look and feel of nineteenth-century Paris just as it was being dramatically transformed by modernisation while the others featured the human condition in public places. I’ve learned a lot about recording the sound tapestry of Paris from studying the work and techniques of these photographers.
While these great photographers certainly influence my work the inspiration to begin my detailed exploration and documentation of the contemporary sound tapestry of Paris came from a different source, the French novelist, essayist, and filmmaker, Georges Perec.
His book, Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien, published in English as An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, a collection of detailed observations Georges Perec wrote down as he sat in Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris, taught me how to observe “ce qui se passe quand il ne rien se passe”, what is happening when nothing is happening.
I am the founder and curator of The Paris Soundscapes Archive, a collection of around 3,000 contemporary sounds of the city, including sounds from each of the 20 arrondissements as well as sounds from some of the surrounding suburbs.